New Year, New Intentions

Happy New Year!  Hope the dust (or indoor carpet of pine needles) has settled and you’re now thinking about what the new year holds for you.  As usual, this time of year, I’ve been both taking stock and looking ahead.  One of the things I try to do in January is choose a word that will guide my actions for the year.  A few months ago I decided that I wanted to choose something that would help me be less critical and more helpful.  The first word that came to mind was “magnanimity” but that’s just a mouthful and also seemed like I was the queen of something.  Which I’m not.  Unless you count my capacity to stack half-read newspapers, books and magazines around my night table and then, well, I rule.

I also thought about the word “generous” but again that felt like I was queening it over others.  The word “kindness” nibbled at me but it seemed too sweet, too much like a generic Hallmark card. Then a friend told me that the Dalai Lama says kindness is his religion and it seemed to have a little more gravitas.  And I checked out an online thesaurus for like words and found these: charity, decency, graciousness, solicitude, humanity, understanding, tolerance and even magnanimity.  One of the best synonyms was “fellow feeling.”  That’s a friendly (though complicated) intention I’d like to pursue.

My runner-up word is kindle.  It shares the same root word as kindness but compels me to action. Here’s hoping I can kindle the best in myself and others this year.  All through practicing kindness.

How about you?  Have you set any words for the year? If you’d like help doing so, I recommend signing up for  Susannah Conway’s free Find Your Word course.  You might also like to see what other folks have selected for their words over at One Word 365.  Turns out the other two members of my Kindness tribe are in Mount Holly, North Carolina and Knoxville, Tennessee.  Places I’ve never been, but I have no doubt there are kind folks there, too.

Hope to see more of you in the New Year!


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Glad Tidings

May you find peace, good will and much wonder this holiday season.

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“I wanted to see a woman lead the great nation, so my own spine could be straighter this blustery sunny morning.” Hilary Mantel

The unthinkable—at least from inside my bright blue bubble—has happened and now Donald Trump is going to be our next president.  As you may recall I was am a Hillary fan girl.  A week ago I put on my suffragist whites and drove to my local polling place to turn in my ballot. As well as MJ’s. Because when he’d offered to drop mine off earlier that morning I’d said no, that this was an historic day and even though we’d filled out absentee ballots in advance I was going to go to a polling place in person and vote for the first woman president!

I went out to lunch with my sister to celebrate.  We ordered the dessert sampler because it was a day to pull out all the stops.  Both of my girls called and we happily chatted about the election night parties they were either throwing or attending that night.  MJ had a class to teach so I settled in by myself to watch the results. But since it wasn’t even dusk here in California I decided I’d catch up on Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend until the news called it for Hillary.  The ultimate Girls Night In.

Then my phone started pinging. “What the heck is going on with this election?” texted my sister, coming as close to swearing as a good Mormon girl can come.  “Is this the way elections always go?” from my son who was voting in a presidential election for the first time.  “YOUR DAUGHTERS ARE NOT IN A GOOD PLACE RIGHT NOW,” from one daughter.  “Apparently I know nothing,” from the other referencing our earlier conversation where she’d blithely said she wasn’t worried at all about the election outcome.

I quickly turned over to the news coverage and saw that, indeed, very few of the people I regularly read or listen to knew anything about how 47.5% of Americans who voted would vote.

The morning after the election I was as dazed and disoriented as Barron Trump had appeared when his father accepted the presidency. I forced myself to attend a demonstration about decorating with materials foraged from wild spaces.  But first I consoled the woman who comes every other week to clean my house about the possibility of her husband being deported, his papers filled out but never filed, or maybe even her daughter who was born here in America.  At the demonstration, tearful women cautiously sidled up to each other trying not to offend those in the group who might also be quietly celebrating that day.  Everyone cheered when I won one of the raffled floral arrangements—a crown-like succulent sitting on top of a black and white vase.

The rest of the week I kvetched and commiserated and sought out chagrined experts analyzing what went wrong.  I read about country vs. city folk and thought of the boarded up main street of my hometown in Idaho.  I teared up at the earnestness of  “Leslie Knope” when she loses an elementary school election to a cartoon character named Dr. Farts.  I  agreed that Trump had superior storytelling strategies (even if I hated the tales he told) and realized that though I supported Hillary, I couldn’t find a message in her campaign that would comfortably fit on a ball cap—which is, according to filmmaker Michael Moore, what this election was all about.

I know people who voted for Trump.  I’m related to some of them.  One chided me the night before the election for posting a selfie in a Hillary t-shirt. “You were raised better than this.” Others are friends that are some of the kindest, most generous people I know.  It remains a mystery to me how they can compartmentalize Trump’s misogynistic, xenophobic, bigoted statements the way they do.  But then, they probably think I’m just as blind when it comes to Hillary’s foibles.  And yet, if we’re in the business of weighing sins, I can see no parity.  And if we’re going to use a separate scale to judge competency and  experience, in my mind there’s no contest.

But those calculations are in the past—and now what do we do going forward?  I’m starting with small acts of kindness like welcoming an older woman who moved in next door, writing a yelp review for my El Salvadoran handyman, and sending money to charities that work to protect our planet and support refugee and womens’ rights. I’m keeping my ears and eyes open for larger ways to contribute from my clearly privileged perch. All the while noting the beauty that continues to manifest even in the darkest times—dogwood leaves glowing red against the blue November sky, pockets of orange pyracantha berries revealing themselves along the freeways, an amber super moon rising above the greening hills.

This past Sunday I drove down to Lake Merritt—a heart-shaped lagoon in the middle of Oakland—and stood with thousands of mourners as we clapped and held hands and sang “Imagine” on a beautiful fall day when it seemed like nothing bad could ever happen in this world. Kumbaya! Hallelujah! As I returned to my car a family carrying a large American flag walked ahead of me.  The father held his young son’s hand as his daughter skipped a few steps behind, the red and white stripes flowing over her. We’d all done what we could that day to give peace a chance.

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Happy Halloween!

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Making a Difference with DIFFA 2016

For Bay Area readers, the holiday party season kicks off with a festive fundraiser supporting the UCSF Positive Health Program and DIFFA (Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS).  Funds raised help care for men, women and children with HIV/AIDS in San Francisco.

In the past, DIFFA has sponsored a gala evening showcasing tableware displays. This year, however, the fundraiser consists of a silent auction of one-of-a-kind home decor objects created by some of the local design community’s brightest lights.   Held at The NWBLK in Mission Gulch on Wednesday,October 12, the auction will feature unusual works like the mirror-polished brass-topped “Shine” table above by Oakland’s MRCW Design Build.

Another illuminating item coming out of the East Bay is the Inanna Pendant Light by Erin McGuinness. Made of clay, this pendant light serves as a metaphor for the sculptor’s creative process.

Other shiny objects up for auction have been designed by Bay Area design luminaries Martha Angus and Gary Hutton and design establishments Arterra Landscape Architects, BaDesigns, BCJ and Gensler.

Sure to be a dazzling evening.  For tickets go to

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Ever Green Design

I’ve written about a number of eco-friendly homes over the years but this beautiful remodel by architect Sherry Williamson has to be one of the most stylish.  You can read more about the overall project in the current (October 2016) issue of Diablo Magazine, but I’m sharing a few photos here along with some ideas for how to create your own “healthy home.”

Marin County-based Williamson oversaw this elegantly spare design.  It demonstrates an extraordinary commitment to practices and products that are both good for the environment and create a healthy environment for the homeowners and their young family.  Williamson and the rest of the design team including Andrew Mann Architecture, McCutcheon Construction and Scott Lewis Landscape Associates made sure that every detail was as environmentally friendly and health-conscious as possible.

“Bringing the team up to speed on the level of green (which exceeded LEED in many areas) was probably the biggest challenge with this project. It really was a great opportunity to investigate the materials in all of the building materials and in the furnishings,” says Williamson.  “When confronted with a challenge, we didn’t say ‘no’ that’s not possible. We asked how can we get what we are looking for in perhaps a new way? We were open to new materials and ideas.”

If you, too, are open to new ideas in green design take a look at these terrific suggestions from Williamson for creating our own healthy homes.


- Find low or no-VOC finishes for wood or wall paints.  Many companies offer these now and avoid the toxic mildewcides and biocides in paint. Try Auro USA or ECOS Paint or Benjamin Moore’s Aura.

- Select stone carefully. Some granite and other stone countertops are radioactive!  You can ask most stone suppliers and they’ll guide you away from those likely to be radioactive (or you can have someone measure a stone with special equipment) but different batches can vary from a quarry.

- Avoid sealants on stone or grout. This family of products seems to contain a lot of harmful chemicals and no good options were found. The stone countertops in this house are all unsealed.

- Consider Aerogel insulation. This is a ‘space-age’ batt insulation material used by NASA as it protects very efficiently even in a very thin layer. Not always easy to obtain—but it was used for this project where we needed to have high insulation values and there was limited space.

Appliances + Fixtures

- Ask about BPA and other plastics used in common appliances like refrigerators. Some appliances utilize more costly stainless steel components that are durable and non-toxic. Miele seems to be a leader in cleaner products while SubZero told us they still used BPA in their refrigerator drawers when we inquired during this project. See more on BPA below under Household.

- Replace old toilets that use lots of water with efficient new ones that use less water. We used the Kohler Santa Rosa at 1.28 gallons per flush.

- Install a water filtration system for the drinking water. Many are available and remove the chlorine and other chemicals in standard city drinking water.


- Ask questions when you buy upholstered furniture. Some companies will be happy to provide information (Cisco for instance), while others are unable or don’t want to provide any details.

- Avoid ‘stain resistant’ applications for fabrics that most manufacturers and installers offer – like ScotchGuard, GoreTex or Teflon. Most stain resistant products are made up of PFC’s (like PFOA or PFOS) chemical compounds that are not proven healthy – many companies won’t divulge the ingredients – See articles here and here.

- Select all-wool carpeting with natural latex backing or antique wool area rugs. These clean easily with warm water. And avoid chemical backings on wall to wall carpets that can off-gas for months or years, creating unhealthy indoor air quality.

- Use carpet pad without off-gassing chemicals and no PVC like Ultimate Slide-Stop (or called GripTex) by American Fiber Cushion for large area rugs

- Buy a non-toxic mattress and pillows – many mattresses use foams with unknown ingredients, like memory foam and you sleep on this every night.  Find a company that lists ALL ingredients in their mattresses and pillows like European Sleepworks in Berkeley! They are one of the first to produce organic mattresses and they have their fabrics certified through OEcotex.


- Use simple cleaning products – not ones with complex and toxic ingredients – and avoid harsh cleaning products that can also damage the finishes on sinks, faucets, tubs, toilets, countertops, etc.

- Avoid plastic food containers like sports bottles and plastic toys – store food in glass, use stainless steel dishes for reusable picnic ware – even BPA-free (bisphenol A) plastics are not the solution as BPA has been replaced with similar chemicals that are still untested and are believed to be harmful to humans (BPS is used now, and next in line could be Bisphenols AF, BPK, C, DK, F, G, M, PH, TMC and Z).  See articles here and here.

- Use stainless steel or cast iron or enameled cookware – avoid stick-resistant finishes and aluminum pans.

All photographs by David Wakely


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Friday Things: The Photo Editing Edition

Yesterday I attended an iPhone photo editing workshop by Seattle-based photographer David Perry.  The workshop was sponsored by my local chapter of the Garden Club of America of which I’m a new member. I can tell already that this will be a fun group to hang out with—garden ladies are the best!

I thought I’d pass along a few of the photo editing apps and tips that Perry demonstrated in case you, too, want to play around with your digital photos.  Early on in the workshop, Perry sent us out the door to shoot some simple “haiku-like” garden images using an app called Camera+  (NOT to be confused with Camera Plus).  I liked that the focus feature was so clear and easy to use.  For example, see how crisp the anemone is in original shot used for the photo above.

Then Perry showed us how to manipulate the photos with Handy Photo.  It has many of the basic editing tools like shadows, contrast, sharpness, color, etc. but is very user-friendly. I especially liked its “lasso” feature that allowed you to get rid of little bits like my toes creeping into this photo of some leaves in water.


Perry moved on to layering textures onto photos with an app called Mextures.  This produced the blurred colors on the anemone photo and some of the deeper colors on the leaves photos.  Finally, he added words with Over.  Frankly, I don’t know how often I’ll use this app since putting words on photos makes them look a little too much like a Hallmark Card to me. However, there are times when I’ve used a word app like this before for holiday greetings or when I’m setting my yearly intention.  So I’m sure I’ll use this occasionally.  Perry also recommended Enlight for straightening photos reminding us that “no one app does it all.”

Perry’s overall advice when taking photos—particularly garden photos, which can often be very stagnant—is to Avoid Shooting the Noun.  In other words, don’t just put a flower in the middle of a photo and snap a picture.  “Try to shoot the adverbs and adjectives instead.”

Off to the beach for a friend’s daughter’s wedding where I hope to snap some ROMANTIC photos as we HAPPILY celebrate this new union.

Happy Weekend All!


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Friday Things: The Fancy Craft Show Edition

As you’ll know from previous posts, I’m a big fan of the American Craft Council San Francisco show held every August at Fort Mason. The ACCSF show is much like a grown up “back-to-school” shopping excursion for me where I go to see what’s new in handcrafted jewelry, clothing and home furnishings.   I popped into this year’s show this morning and thought I’d share some highlights for any of you local readers thinking about attending this weekend.

For the past few years, the show producers have presented four home decor vignettes featuring items that can be purchased at the show (helpful, since some of these craft items are so unique it’s hard to see how they’d work in a space.)  This year’s  theme  was “4 Directions” so there were vignettes depicting North, South, East and West.

Above you’ll see the elegant North vignette designed by L.A. designer Leslie Shapiro Joyal who used the Northern California coast as her inspiration and featured rock sculptures by Gerald Arrington and witty lamps by Will Richards as well as her own Cocoon Bed.  ”Though I’m from L.A., I really tried to capture the Northern California vibe in this room,” says  Joyal. Some of you may know Joyal from Ellen DeGeneres’s “Design Challenge.”

The West vignette was designed by Alden Miller Interiors and inspired by a California beach sunset.  I loved the cozy beach shack feeling of the room and found the whimsical octopus sculpture by Evan Chambers charming.

Some other favorite home decor things included:

Tiles, vases and dinnerware patterned with traditional motifs in a sophisticated neutral palette by Petaluma potter Forrest Lesch-Middleton

Handwoven wool blankets  from Dianne Nordt of Virginia’s  Nordt Family Farm

And indigo-dyed pillows from Berkeley-based textile artist Jenny Fong of Modern Shibori

As always, I came away with some one-of-a-kind items for my home and names of designers I’ll be tracking in the future.  The ACCSF show runs through Sunday. If you live in the Bay Area and would like to attend, you can find out more here.

Happy Weekend All!

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Friday Things: The Hillary Edition

The day after Hillary Clinton became the first woman nominated for president by a major political party finds me a bit groggy.  I didn’t sit down to watch last night’s convention coverage until 10:00 p.m. And by the time I’d sampled Katy Perry’s Fight Song and David Brooks’s fighting words (something to the effect that HRC would do better if she sounded less ambitious), it was nearly midnight before Hillary showed up on my screen. Though I was tempted to call it a night, I couldn’t turn in without seeing history in the making.

Until this campaign I was neither a Hilary fan nor a Hilary hater.  I knew she was smart and well-qualified for the job but her speaking style left me cold. I generally agreed with what she had to say but wished there was a little more poetry in her prose.  I didn’t think she was as duplicitous as her enemies claimed nor as angelic as last night’s white power suit might have suggested.

But I’ve spent a lot of time in recent years immersed in women’s history and I can’t help but be elated that a woman really could be the next president of the United States.  And not just a woman but this woman.  Her intelligence, her experience and her tenacity have won me over.  When she said that she was—“happy for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between.  Happy for boys and men, too—because when any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone”— it didn’t sound like political claptrap to me.  I’m happy that barrier has fallen.  I’m happy she’s still standing on the other side.  Happy to be “with her.”  And happy to be a woman in America—albeit a sleepy one.

Here are a few other history-making Hillary things I’m happy about.

Dominique Browning on Hillary.

Some historical precedent for Hillary’s white suit.

This video that salutes Hillary’s mother and other heroines.

Happy Weekend All!

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Friday Things: The Tonys Edition

Just a quick note before the Warrior’s game begins. Game 4 is tonight and I’m hoping the Warriors are back to form after the blow-out on Wednesday. We’ll be spending more time than usual this weekend watching televised events with the game tonight and the Tonys on Sunday.  Since I happened to see three (!) of the nominated plays this year–a perk of having a child living in Manhattan–I thought I’d give a quick run down of what I saw when I wasn’t seeing “Hamilton.”

We saw “The View from the Bridge” last fall and it was as chilling as advertised.  The spare stage and visceral acting kept us riveted and the shocking conclusion made for one of my most memorable evenings at the theater. Mark Strong was terrific as the controlling dockworker uncle and I’m hoping he’ll take home a Tony.

“View from the Bridge” was directed by Belgian director Ivo van Hove as was a revival of “The Crucible” featuring Saoirse Ronan.  We caught “The Crucible” a few weeks ago and though I wasn’t quite as taken with it as “Bridge,” it’s certainly stuck with me. Sophie Okonedo was powerful as the wrongly accused Elizabeth Proctor.  Rooting for her too.

On a lighter (sweeter?) note, I took in a matinee of “Waitress” and found it poignant and charming, though I quibbled with the girl power ending. Though it won’t get much love at this year’s Tonys given that it’s going up against “Hamilton,” I suspect it will tour and I’d recommend it.  (In the meantime you can watch the Keri Russell movie version of Waitress.)

Did you see any nominated shows on Broadway this year?  If so, who and what do you hope bring home a Tony Sunday night?

Here are a few other Broadway related things I recommend this week:

Theater and social media humor.

And if you haven’t seen the James Cordon Broadway Carpool Karaoke yet–here you go!

Happy Weekend All!

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Kathryn Pritchett

writes about Things Elemental — where we find shelter, why we connect, what sustains us and how we strut our stuff.

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    • Berries pop on the front walk asparagus ferns. Missed being part of the Christmas decorations but still welcome.